Sustainable Energy Spotlight: West North Carolina

A call to action by a group nationally and  in North Carolina, “”Beyond Coal: A Rally for Our Future,” shines light on a regional community in the trenches of America’s battle in between fossil fuel interests and environmentalists. But this particular movement brings with it a bit more hefty a message given the political weight Duke Energy leverages in this region and elsewhere. North Carolina shares this week’s spotlight with one of the world’s largest fossil fuel consumers.

Asheville against coal

Thanks to Bill Rhodes

Yesterday a few hundred gathered at Pack Square Park in Asheville to show support for their Western North Carolina Alliance, and the battle to gain a foothold on a sustainable future. For those who do not know, Duke Energy is actually is the largest electric power holding company in the United States. That’s right, a company many of our readers have never heard of throws a mighty political punch in the ring of Raleigh and even Washington decision making. What began as the the Catawba Power Company back in 1900, has since sprawled into a conglomerate of monumental proportions.

Green cartoon

Political cartoon from Western North Carolina Alliance depicting Green detractors

Also for those outside the region, the Western North Carolina area is by far one of the most sensitive ecological areas in America today. At the Southern edge of the legendary Appalachians, Asheville and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountain communities are at once some of the most visited touristic areas in America, and in many ways the most critically impacted by growth. Enter organizations such as Western NC Alliance (WNCA) and a legion of other interested shareholders.

The bone of contention for this particular demonstration was an is digressing from what’s become America’s most negative impact on Earth’s environment perhaps, coal fired energy. And it is in this area Duke Energy, despite the company’s decent Green reputation in the press, transgresses abundantly. AND, the company makes no bones about justifying their use of the fossil fuel. I quote from the conglomerate’s website:

“More than half of the power produced in the United States is generated using coal. The continued use of coal is fundamental to Duke Energy as we plan for new power plants to economically and reliably meet our customers’ growing need for electricity.”

WNCA's Anna Jane Joyner working hard to move Asheville #BeyondCoal!

WNCA’s Anna Jane Joyner working hard to move Asheville #BeyondCoal!

Now against the backdrop of the wondrous Blue Ridge sky, no doubt WNCA’s Anna Jane Joyner (above from their Facebook) and others on the quest for sustainability in those mountains see a dark cloud over the future of these North Carolina mountains. But in fairness to Duke Energy, the company has made strides to not only alleviate their carbon burden, but to increase profitability via the burning of so-called “clean coal”. Also, Duke Energy is ahead of many world energy companies where retiring older and more inefficient cola powered plant is concerned.

But the North Carolina company is still the third biggest coal dragon breathing SO2 emissions out. Duke also owns three of the top ten dirtiest coal powered generating facilities in the country. Also, the larger issues where Duke and other major energy producers impact local communities are often overshadowed by the enormity of such corporations’ footprints. What I mean by this is, national and international conglomerates such as Duke Energy occupy such a massive scale of operations and business, it’s just difficult to sum up the overall impact.

A family enjoys Linville Falls - courtesy Gustavo Diaz

A family enjoys Linville Falls – courtesy Gustavo Diaz

Take for instance the Western North Carolina Alliance contentions versus the Energy company local to Asheville recently. The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources filed a  lawsuit last year alleging Duke’s storing of coal ash at the utilities Asheville power plant and its power plant in Charlotte had leaked toxins into the French Broad River and Mountain Island Lake.  Staring in the face of another settlement by Duke Energy, the WNCA claims the proposed $99,000 fine ludicrous. And that it may very well be.

Finally, this article by the Mountain Xpress shines more light on just how broad reaching environmental groups like those around Asheville extend. The National Director of Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” initiative, Mary Anne Hitt, points to the successes the groups have had. Some 149 coal-powered plants have closed since 2010, in large part  thanks to grassroots organizations like; the grant funded GroWNC, Blue Ridge Forever , the Canary Coalition, Appalachian Voices, and literally dozens of others.

Cowee Mountain Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway - courtesy Mary Anne Baker

Cowee Mountain Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway – courtesy Mary Anne Baker

We leave off with another campaign to ensure this part of the Blue Ridge Mountains remains as pristine a national treasure as it has always been. Appalachian Voices Red, White, and Water Campaign’s Sandra Diaz talks about issues they’re trying to solve. As far as the big power producers are concerned, legislation has forced many bold changes from Duke and the others. Still, the nature of efficient business for some still seems to address only that which is absolutely necessary, or mandated. As consumers and citizens, it’s about time people started demanding long term thinking from the businesses they support.

Our hat goes off to those caught up in these local struggles to preserve nature, and life, for those to follow.


  1. Brian says

    North Carolina has traditionally been one of the largest consumers of mountaintop removal coal, and since Duke Energy, the nation’s largest utility is based in Charlotte, the state is a proving ground for campaigns calling out coal’s impacts on water and air quality, and it’s massive contribution to climate change. Communities in western North Carolina especially, are waking up to the reality that the true costs of coal are simply to high to continue paying. Thanks for shining the spotlight on the efforts of groups like Appalachian Voices to harness this energy and create a healthy environment for our families and communities.

    • Phil Butler says

      @Brian, our pleasure for sure. This part of the South is near and dear to a couple of our staff, and to millions and millions of Americans. The efforts so many make to help preserve such places, deserve the highest commendation.

      Thank you for taking the time to come and read and comment.

      Phil Butler

      The Editor

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